While winter can be a magical time of year, it comes equipped with its own set of dangers. These include wind chill, heavy snows, and even dubious in-laws. One such seasonal threat is icy driveways. Ice presents many hazards, and when it is right outside one’s home, the risk of injury increases. Here we offer a few ways to avoid making the front of your property an ice skating rink.
The Trouble with Ice
Ice can range from innocuous to insidious. It adds a beautiful sparkle to any winter landscape but is also responsible for a spike in emergency room visits during the colder months of the year. Thousands of people miss work or require medical visits every year because of snow and ice. The Consumer Products Safety Commission quotes 12,000 to 15,000 emergency room visits every year due to holiday decorating alone. Be mindful of that as you navigate the icy areas of your property.
Methods to Melt Icy Driveways
Even better than tentatively tiptoeing around the slick areas is removing them entirely. There are many methods for thawing out icy driveways, some of them commercially available and others favoring more of a home-brew approach. Each method has its pros and cons, so consider carefully which is the best fit for your home.
Rock salt is the most common method used to combat icy driveways. It is both natural and ubiquitous, making it one of the cheapest options. Salt, like many of the methods on this list, tackles driveway ice by lowering the freezing point of water.
Unfortunately, rock salt can do its fair share of damage, ranging from unsightly staining to detrimental corrosion. Salt is a catalyst for rust, so it can do a great deal of harm when it is kicked up into the undercarriage of vehicles during wet seasons. Salt also draws in moisture, and if that standing water is not cleared away, it can saturate the concrete underneath it, exacerbating the freeze-thaw cycles that can crack driveways and patios.
Salt is a blanket term for many chemical compounds, and some are more innocuous than others. Sodium chloride is used as table salt and is relatively safe, but calcium chloride is toxic if ingested, especially to pets. It can also burn your lawns and kill other plants.
Rubbing alcohol is a household staple, and veritably inexpensive to boot. Alcohol in general is a very common ingredient in commercial deicers, and this household product loosens up icy driveways pretty well. By lowering water’s freezing point, the ice is broken up, making it easy to scrape away.
For easy at-home application, combine two parts rubbing alcohol with one part warm water in a spray bottle. This concoction can be stored year-round, and when it is needed, simply spritz it liberally onto your driveway or sidewalks. This method works slowly but surely.
There are many chemicals on the market for deicing the driveway, and some work better than others. Calcium magnesium acetate, for example, only deices when the air temperature is roughly 26.5ºF or warmer. It is, however, biodegradable, which is plus whether you are environmentally conscious or just hate scraping the driveway free of salt when the cold weather recedes.
Magnesium chloride is still effective when temperatures plunge below 26.5ºF, even down to 5ºF. It is good for heavy-duty melt jobs, and even though it contains chlorine, it is less toxic for the environment and furry friends than is calcium chloride. You can find pellets of magnesium chloride in more commercial settings.
Though it may seem counterintuitive, adding more water to an icy surface can help melt the ice. The water must be significantly higher than its freezing point of 32ºF. You can take a pot of boiling water and carefully apply it to your icy driveways or use a spray bottle of scalding water and spritz it on the surface. Though this method is tedious, it is perhaps the most environmentally friendly.
Sand is not a deicer, but it can add traction to minimize the danger of slipping. This is why it is often applied underneath a stuck vehicle’s tires. Kitty litter can be used in the same way. Unfortunately, the mess that sand makes can make it a less ideal option.
Keep It Clear
The more snow is allowed to build up, the more likely a driveway is to ice over. If you can keep wintry precipitation from accumulating, you will be less likely to need solutions for clearing icy driveways off. Shoveling or, even better for your back, snow blowing snow away before it can freeze into ice may not be convenient, but it can be the safest option.